Japanese, Korean, and Chinese massages are very different

There are many similarities across East Asian cultures, but one thing that I have found to be very different is how massages are given. This is strictly from personal experience, but I have favorite Korean, Chinese, and Japanese massage places in San Francisco (one each), and each experience is unique.

At the Japanese massage place, I don’t take off all my clothes — in fact, they give me baggy sweatpants and a t-shirt to wear. The masseuse hardly ever touches my skin (she uses towels over the parts she’s working on) and never goes even remotely close to my genitals or breasts.

The Chinese massage place is a bit different. The first time I went there, I kept my underwear on, only to discover that the lady massaging me would pull them down and rub massage oil over my butt. It was a bit uncomfortable the first time, but now I know to strip down and expect that.

The Korean place, which I tried for the first time this weekend, offered an oil massage and scrub package. An older woman in a black lace bikini scrubbed my entire body as if I was a car that needed washing, including my breasts and inner thighs. There was nothing sexy about it, but I never felt so shiny and smooth.

I have gone to several massage places in Japan, and have consistently found that they are more conservative about touching the wrong way than their Chinese and Korean counterparts. I wonder if this has something to do with the lines we draw between public and private, sexual and non-sexual.

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